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The Grocery List

by on October 10, 2017 4:30 AM

The wonderful invention on which you are reading these very words – the internet – is a treasure trove of information. Interestingly, one of the most popular methods of disseminating that information is through lists. Lists are everywhere on the internet.

As I open my primary web browser right now I find the following lists staring back at me: Where to get the most delicious pizza in all 50 states; Top takeaways from Sunday’s NFL action; 5 cards charging 0% interest; 6 home renovations that return the most at home sale; The 50 worst TV shows of all time; American cities with the worst traffic; Millennials reveal their top 100 favorite brands. Lists, lists and more lists. We humans certainly enjoy our lists.

And of all the lists out there, our favorite and most important list is the one many of us use regularly to keep ourselves alive – the grocery list. Humans have shown they can survive without food for a while, but eventually we all need to eat. And where do we get the food we eat? The grocery store.

How many trips a week do you make to the grocery store? One? Two? Five? Whether we call it a grocery store, supermarket, hypermarket, supercenter or warehouse club, we go there often, and buy the manna that sustains us

According to sources there are 38,441 supermarket stores in the United States. There are more than 250 regional or local supermarket chains and 10 or so national chains. When a grocery store opens or closes in a community it’s big news. A story last week on this very website about a local grocery store opening one location and closing another created hundreds of “likes” and many comments on Facebook.

We Americans spent $627 billion dollars in grocery stores in 2016. With 325 million people in the country that‘s just under $2,000 a year for every woman, man and child. That’s a lot of groceries and a lot of shopping. Where do you often see your friends and neighbors? In the grocery store. We spend a lot of time in grocery stores.

It follows then that one of the internet’s most well-known aforementioned lists would be the annual ranking of America’s favorite grocery retailers. There are several such rankings but the one most often cited by respectable news sources surveys more than 12,700 shoppers from around the country, reflecting variety in ages and incomes. But not so much in gender - approximately 75 percent of the respondents were women. Take from that what you will.

For several years three chains have battled neck-and-neck for the top spot out of the 23 chains surveyed: Trader Joe’s, Publix, and Wegmans. In the latest list Publix and Wegmans tied for first with 77% scores on the Customer Loyalty Index. Trader Joe’s was right behind at 76%. The next closest finisher was seven points back – a wide margin for this survey.

In Happy Valley we have two of those three favorite grocery retailers right in our midst. Of the other local grocery stores represented on the list, Target finished 13th at 56%, Sam’s finished in a three-way tie for 17th at 49%, Giant finished 20th at 43%, and Walmart finished in last place with 31%. Weis was not rated.

During my adult life I have shopped in a lot of grocery stores. Some only once or twice when traveling around the country, but there are a number of chains I have shopped multiple times: Trader Joe’s, Giant, Weis, Wegmans, Stop & Shop, Publix, Food Lion, Goodings, Winn-Dixie, Harris Teeter, Alberston’s, Piggly Wiggly, Whole Foods, McCaffrey's; Target and Walmart supercenters; and the Costco, BJ’s, and Sam’s warehouse clubs. So I consider myself a well-informed consumer of groceries.

To me the most exciting part of these rankings is that two of the top three chains (Trader Joe’s and Publix) do not use frequent shopper cards. That’s right, no scrounging for that piece of plastic in your wallet or on your keychain every time you check out. Cashiers do not have to quiz you every time you reach the head of the line, “Do you have your shopper’s card with you?” There’s no need to spend time worrying, “Am I going to get the best price?” Trader Joe’s and Publix give their best price to every person who walks through their doors. No questions asked. No applications to fill out. No additional plastic clogging up your life. What a delightful retailing idea, and I’m thrilled consumers are happy with that concept.

Years ago I left a local checkout line frustrated over a $1 per pound difference in a five-pound supply of grapes. I didn’t have a card and the cashier explained the store recently changed policies and were no longer allowed to scan a “dummy” card at the register so you could receive the reduced cardholder price. I believe they eventually went back to the policy, but I only shop there now when necessity strikes.

As far as the potential benefits of grocery shoppers club cards go… although I appreciate the “cents-off” per gallon on gas, if I have to drive out of my way to get the gas, I realize that the savings – often only 20 cents a gallon for me – amounts to less than a gallon of free gas on fill-up. Not to mention, I’m one of those older folks who grew up learning you bought one brand of gas and stuck with it or ended up with engine trouble. And since neither of the local chain grocery stores with gas benefits provide gas that AAA recommends as best for your engine, then it’s not much of a bonus.

In addition, I find it annoying when a grocery store with a shoppers club card publishes coupons that give you a discount if you spend over a certain dollar amount. But then they require you to bring the coupon to get the credit. If I have your shoppers club card and spend over the amount, how about just giving me the discount? Because otherwise I feel like you’re taking advantage of me.

When we lived in Orlando we lived and breathed Publix – the largest employee-owned grocery chain in the country. Since Trader Joe’s opened in Happy Valley we have been spending most of our grocery dollars there. Having been in only one before it opened here, we were surprised at how small it is compared to the average grocery store. Then you realize how little room they need when they only carry their own brand of everything. This has the benefit of not requiring a marathon every time we go grocery shopping, an issue the other top store uses as a selling point – they’re massive. And cause sensory overload, in our opinion. Not to mention we also like the small size of Trader Joe’s because the associates get to know you, talk with you, joke with you while ringing up your purchase, and care.

But no matter which choice you make, here in Happy Valley it’s great to know that when you create that all-important grocery list, you’ll have a choice of consumer favorites to spend your hard-earned dollars.

 



John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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